Christopher Collier Richard Slotkin - Essay

Richard Slotkin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Colliers' War Comes to Willy Freeman, set during the American Revolution, has as its protagonist a black girl whose father dies in the British attack on New London, Connecticut (1781)…. The inner life of Willy Freeman is the real matter of this story, which deals with the primary early-teen issues of individuation and separation from parents and parental authority. The issues implicitly correspond to the themes of the War of Independence, which gives the history an emotional resonance. The sexual role-playing Willy engages in also raises questions of sexual identity that are so critical during puberty, and do so in a way that readers concerned with overcoming sexual stereotypes will find interesting. Likewise, Willy's blackness gives her (and the reader) a unique and provocative perspective on the ideological issues of the Revolution—liberty, equality and independence.

The historical settings are recognizable, but not so familiar as to smack of the textbook. The issues are historically valid, but they have relevance for the lives of the book's modern audience. This is a novel that is as much about character as it is about history; and that balance of elements is just right not only for historical fiction, but for novels of any kind. (p. 18)

Richard Slotkin, "Tales of Two Cities," in Book World—The Washington Post, May 8, 1983, pp. 15, 18.∗